THE DOG KING by Christoph Ransmayr


Email this review


 A complex and frequently portentous novel about the lingering aftermath of the Holocaust, from German author Ransmayr (The Terrors of Ice and Darkness, 1991, etc.). The primary setting is Moor, a lakeside village renowned for its nearby stone quarry, and notorious as the site of a former concentration camp. Immediately following the defeat of Hitler's European armies, Moor is occupied by American forces and its citizens are ordered to participate in pageant-like ``parties'' memorializing the sufferings of the Jews who died there. Ransmayr focuses attention on three variously affected survivors and victims of these occurrences and ceremonies: Bering, the blacksmith's son, is born during a bombing raid and traumatized for years afterward, suffering a variety of physical disabilities. Ambras (``the Brazilian'') has emerged from the camps to be appointed ``quarry administrator'' and in effect rules--as ``King of the Dogs''--over a landscape blighted by packs of roving animals and equally feral humans. And Lily, an Austrian refugee who lives alone in an abandoned water tower, turns a cache of hidden weapons she's discovered into a thriving barter business. The intricate relationships that bind these three together reach a crisis point when the quarry is exhausted and a new occupying army precipitates their exile, setting into motion the fate for which they've long been destined. This is a relentlessly dense novel characterized by highly charged language (which comes through powerfully in Woods's splendid translation) and oppressive symbolism (for example, Bering's distorted vision provokes this prognosis: ``For the rest of your life. . . you'll see the world as if through blackened glass''). The blurring of historical fact and dreamlike fiction, along with the hortatory emphases, add both confusion and mystery to Ransmayr's apparent point: that neither victims nor those who ``didn't know'' will escape the consequences of the evil that was done. Not the masterpiece it obviously aims to be, but a fascinating and provocative fiction nevertheless.

Pub Date: April 25th, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-45057-2
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1997